For Our Veterans: Mental health nurses offer variety of assistance to vets

By Laurel Hanetho

To begin, I'd like to salute all of our veterans, especially my father, a World War II Army veteran, serving from 1944-46. The following article will highlight opportunities for nurses who specialize in the field of mental health who care for our veterans.

Serving America's heroes is challenging, rewarding, humbling and an honor. The outcome of military service can result in acute, chronic and often disabling injuries and conditions.

Mental health nursing offers extensive opportunities to help those veterans who experience a myriad of disorders, including the rising prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and alarming rates of self-harming behavior and suicide. Other disorders commonly treated include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse.

VA Illiana Health Care System offers many opportunities for mental health nurses in both inpatient and outpatient programs at the main site in Danville, plus at five surrounding community-based outpatient clinics (Peoria, Springfield, Decatur, Mattoon and West Lafayette).

All programs utilize evidence-based practices that are recovery focused and veteran-centered. Treatment is based on individual strengths, needs, abilities and preferences, rather than focusing only on symptoms or a diagnosis. Interdisciplinary collaboration and team involvement provide a continuum of care from acute care to independent living. Opportunities for nurses include, among others, 1-1 supportive intervention, group education, safe medication management, community integration, discharge planning and safety and crisis planning. Teaching/modeling effective coping and living skills empowers the veterans to make healthy choices in their recovery and improve overall level of functioning.

Current opportunities for mental health nursing:

— Acute inpatient psychiatric unit: inpatient unit with treatment regimen of crisis management, safety, stabilization of symptoms, patient education and discharge planning.

— Psychosocial Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (PRRTP): long-term rehabilitation program to teach and coach veterans to improve the quality of their lives through the development of adaptive living skills.

— Mental Health Intensive Case Management (MHICM): intensive outpatient program that supports veterans' independence and ability to maintain in a community-based setting. The treatment goal is to improve quality of life and reduce need for inpatient hospitalization.

— Mental Health Clinic RN: supportive outpatient follow up in a clinic setting to assist with symptom and medication management, referrals and crisis management.

— Translating Initiatives for Depression into Effective Solutions (TIDES): outpatient program that provides assessment, education, health promotion and functional restoration for adult and older adult Veterans with chronic medical conditions who have screen positive for depressive symptoms. This guideline-based treatment provides support to outpatients in primary care.

Mental health nursing programs also offer clinical experience for nursing students through affiliation.

Mental health nurses help to share experiences, cope with trauma, cry with loss, celebrate successes and offer hope when there is none. Mental health nurses save lives; it's truly a passion like no other in health care.

Laurel Hanetho, BSN, RN-BC, who has spent more than 30 years as a mental health nurse, is nurse manager, Mental Health, VA Illiana Health Care System, Danville.

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